We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Discussion point: Russia’s destruction of the Trypillya thermal power plant

“Key power plant near Kyiv destroyed by Russian strikes”, the BBC reported yesterday.

There are several different English spellings of the name of the power plant and the place where it is situated. I have seen Trypillya, Trypillia, Trypilska and Tripilska. However one spells it, the thermal power plant was the largest electricity provider for three regions including Kyiv.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it: this is a heavy blow to Ukraine. What happens next? Given that it has worked well for them, we must assume that the Russians will repeat the same tactic. But two can can play at that game – if they are allowed to.

“You know what, forget it.” Another small business closes in San Francisco.

“Beloved San Francisco burger joint will close after 40 years after wheelchair user sued over obstacles that stopped him entering, with owners saying they’re too poor to build a ramp”, the Daily Mail reports.

A beloved San Francisco burger joint has closed its doors after a wheelchair user sued the restaurant over a ‘high threshold’ that prevented him from entering.

After 38 years of operation, the Great American Hamburger & Pie Co.’s Post in Richmond, California, bid farewell to its longtime customers on Thursday, with the lawsuit being the final blow.

‘Two harsh years of COVID, high food inflation, and a recent ADA compliance lawsuit have taken a toll on our small family business,’ owners George and Helen Koliavas announced the closure.

COVID, high food inflation and a ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance lawsuit: the last five years in America illustrated in three snapshots. Change the name of the disability “rights” law, and the same story could be told a thousand times for small businesses in the UK and the EU. The article continues,

A paraplegic man filed suit against the Koliavas and their landlord in January after encountering a ‘high threshold’ on two visits to the burger joint last year.

On both occasions, the threshold blocked his wheelchair from entering the restaurant, prompting him to hire an ‘accessibility expert’ to conduct an informal investigation.

According to the lawsuit, the expert found a lack of wheelchair access throughout the space.

‘It’s frustrating, and you get to a point where you say, ‘You know what, forget it,” said George.

When I read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged many years ago, I could see why people admired the book, but the portrait of Mr Thompson’s America never quite gelled with me. Perhaps I needed to see America led by a man such as Joe Biden.

Samizdata quote of the day – Gaza edition

“Hamas is perhaps the first regime in recorded history to fight a war designed to maximize casualties among their own population.”

Gatestone Institute.

Samizdata quote of the day – prices are important edition

“This ‘Great Forgetting,’ as Cutsinger and Salter call it, has consequences. One is that many young economists ‘focus on applied research using sophisticated statistical tools without an underlying theoretical framework to guide them.’ The effects, however, go beyond formal economics. The marginalization of price theory in the academy is increasingly mirrored in the conduct of public policy—and the results are dire.”

Samuel Gregg. He is writing in relation to a new CATO Institute publication that addresses why price theory is, so it appears, a neglected field in mainstream economics, and why this matters. The way I see it, prices are information about relative scarcity and plenitude. I learned a few things about what’s known as “Austrian” economics, and one of them is that a reason why central planning and socialism do not work, is that from an epistemological point of view, they are barren in terms of information. And that leads to barren economies. (At the extreme, you get the terrible famines of Communist nations, in part because economics is, in a sense, banned.) George Gilder, who writes a lot about business and technology, even has a book on the topic of the “information theory of capitalism”.

Samizdata quote of the day – three cheers for emissions

The reason emissions exist, they continue, is not because 57 corporations are doing us down. It’s because 8 billion of us have a sharp eye for what produces what we desire. Therefore we buy these things.

Tim Worstall

“A Palestinian writer”

The above tweet from Amnesty International is still up. In case it disappears, here is the text:

Amnesty International
@amnesty
The death in custody of Walid Daqqa, a 62-year-old Palestinian writer who was the longest-serving Palestinian prisoner in Israeli jails after 38 years of imprisonment, is a cruel reminder of Israel’s disregard for Palestinians’ right to life

From amnesty.org
Last edited
6:39 PM · Apr 8, 2024

The tweet calls Walid Daqqa “a Palestinian writer”, as if he had been imprisoned for his writings – as if he were the sort of prisoner of conscience on whose behalf I used to write letters on that special blue Air Mail paper, back when I was a member of Amnesty International.

To be fair, although you would never guess it from their tweet, the linked article by Amnesty does make perfunctory mention of the non-literary crime that caused Walid Daqqa to be put in prison:

On 25 March 1986, Israeli forces arrested Walid Daqqah, then 24, a Palestinian citizen of Israel. In March 1987, an Israeli military court sentenced him to life imprisonment after convicting him of commanding the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)-affiliated group that had abducted and killed Israeli soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984.

Perhaps concerned about her wordcount, Amnesty’s writer, Erika Guevara-Rosas, did not say much about Moshe Tamam. She cited Walid Daqqa’s youthful age at the time, 24, but did not see fit to say that his victim Moshe Tamam was just 19. And she skips over some relevant details in that brief word “killed”. Daqqa and his PFLP comrades did not just kill Moshe Tamam, they tortured him to death. They gouged out his eyes and castrated him. Then they murdered him.

But Ms Guevara-Rosas found space in her article to write most eloquently about Walid Daqqa:

During his time in prison, Walid Daqqah wrote extensively about the Palestinian lived experience in Israeli prisons. He acted as a mentor and educator for generations of young Palestinian prisoners, including children. His writings, which included letters, essays, a celebrated play and a novel for young adults, were an act of resistance against the dehumanization of Palestinian prisoners. “Love is my modest and only victory against my jailer,” he once wrote.

Walid Daqqah’s writings behind bars are a testament to a spirit never broken by decades of incarceration and oppression.

How to get a PlayStation 5 under socialism, explained by a socialist

“Final question to you, Professor Wolff. Under your system of worker cooperatives, would I still get my PlayStation 5?”

“Absolutely. You’d have to struggle a little bit for it, you’d have to talk to your fellow workers, you’d have to talk about the distribution of income. You’d have to compare your desire for a Playstation against all the other interests of all the other people. It wouldn’t be something you worked out on your own with your particular boss, ah, in any way. It would have to be a democratic decision. You’d have to come to terms with that, the way you do with democratic decisions now in our society, to the extent that we have them.”

The professor shown speaking in the clip is Professor Richard D. Wolff, but I do not know the name of the interviewer, nor when the interview took place. I know it was more than eleven months ago from this Reddit post, but for some reason several tweets about it popped up in my feed over the last few days, including this one from Dylan Allman. The transcription is by me. I often transcribe what was said on videos into writing in order to make it easier for people to search for and cite the relevant words later.

46% of British Muslims say they sympathise with Hamas

“Only one in four British Muslims believe Hamas committed murder and rape in Israel, report reveals”, reports the Telegraph.

Only one in four British Muslims believe that Hamas committed murder and rape in Israel on Oct 7, a major report has found.

46 per cent of British Muslims said they sympathise with Hamas, according to a poll commissioned by the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), a counter-extremism think-tank.

Later in the article Fiyaz Mughal, who has done as much as anyone alive to work against Muslim extremism, is quoted as saying, “The Government has got to provide better guidance for teachers, schools and education establishments.” He is not wrong as far as it goes but I don’t think sending even a really super government guidance circular to education establishments is going to be much help now:

Younger and well-educated Muslims were the most likely to think Hamas did not commit atrocities on Oct 7, with the proportions rising to 47 per cent among 18 to 24-year-olds and 40 per cent among the university-educated.

*

An Excel table giving the full results of the polling carried out by J.L. Partners for the Henry Jackson Society can be downloaded from this link. Two polls were conducted, one of British Muslims over the period 14th February – 12th March 2024 and one of the British public in general over 4th – 6th March 2024.

Samizdata quote of the day – we are inching towards totalitarianism

Somehow we have arrived at a place that the West never expected to inhabit. A generation after the collapse of the most powerful totalitarian regime in modern history, the “free world” has apparently lost its grip on the relationship between moral values and political decisions which was once its greatest strength.

The idea had seemed to win out against all the odds: that a government could uphold fundamental first principles of justice, liberty and the authority of the law while still responding realistically to changes in popular opinion and social conditions. This was a truly miraculous understanding of the relationship between morality and politics and, difficult as it might have been to manage, it seemed to deliver the life most people wanted.

It’s hard to believe but we might be witnessing the end of it.

Janet Daly (£)

Cold machines versus hot blood

“The machine did it coldly: Israel used AI to identify 37,000 Hamas targets” – that is the title of a Guardian piece on Israel’s use of the “Lavender” AI-assisted targeting system.

The Israeli military’s bombing campaign in Gaza used a previously undisclosed AI-powered database that at one stage identified 37,000 potential targets based on their apparent links to Hamas, according to intelligence sources involved in the war.

In addition to talking about their use of the AI system, called Lavender, the intelligence sources claim that Israeli military officials permitted large numbers of Palestinian civilians to be killed, particularly during the early weeks and months of the conflict.

Their unusually candid testimony provides a rare glimpse into the first-hand experiences of Israeli intelligence officials who have been using machine-learning systems to help identify targets during the six-month war.

Israel’s use of powerful AI systems in its war on Hamas has entered uncharted territory for advanced warfare, raising a host of legal and moral questions, and transforming the relationship between military personnel and machines.

“This is unparalleled, in my memory,” said one intelligence officer who used Lavender, adding that they had more faith in a “statistical mechanism” than a grieving soldier. “Everyone there, including me, lost people on October 7. The machine did it coldly. And that made it easier.”

The article, by Bethan McKernan and Harry Davies, contains several howlers such as a reference to “the shockingly high death toll in the war”. Even if I believed Hamas casualty figures, which I do not, the death toll in this war is shockingly low. The Allied bombing of Dresden probably killed more people over three nights than have died over six months of the current Israeli-Hamas war.

Nonetheless, as the quoted passage shows, the authors have pointed out that one of the benefits to humanity of AI targeting in war is that it takes the immediate decision to kill out of the hands of humans.

And puts it… where exactly? I am all in favour of targeted killing, if the alternative is untargeted killing. I am in favour of the decision to kill being made according to rational military and legal criteria agreed openly in advance, if the alternative is the decision being made in a split second by someone who is angry and afraid. But I share the writers’ disquiet at the idea of the process of war becoming detached from human control entirely.

What is your view?

Samizdata quote of the day – Why being rich is great edition

“Liberalism depends on institutions, including those for free speech and inquiry. Liberalism is also a project for freeing man from the physical constraints of nature. The personal autonomy of those with resources often advances the infrastructure and culture of liberalism that protects the personal autonomy of others who are not as well off. The dynamism of liberalism is its best defense.”

John O Mcginnis

The author gives a sharp critique of a book by Ingrid Robeyns that claims we should eliminate rich people – not by killing them, but seizing their money. At the moment, we appear to live in a time when hostility to great wealth is respectable, and yet in my gut I sense the same kind of horrible, “tall poppy syndrome” mindset that has led to confiscatory taxes, and countless other abominations that are based on a zero-sum view of the world that at its heart is wrong and in my view, malevolent.

Samizdata quote of the day – Useless Scottish Conservatives edition

This [Tory] weakness and mealy-mouthed reluctance to hit back at legislation that Rowling has described as ‘ludicrous’ and many believe is the most dangerous threat to free speech ever enacted in the UK, is as puzzling as it is maddening. There is surely a great opportunity here for the Scottish Conservatives, if only they could grasp it. The Tories should be at the forefront of the opposition, not loitering in the shadows. And some sort of clear and robust opposition is desperately needed. No one yet knows what the immediate or long-term effects of the Act will be, but the options appear to be bad, awful and downright terrifying. While the police have now said they will not prosecute Rowling following a deluge of complaints against her, they will certainly have a much-expanded workload for years to come. That means they will likely have to give up on even more of the common variety of crime. And they only recently declared that they would not be investigating allegations of wrongdoing without leads or CCTV footage available.

Philip Patrick

Maybe the Tories think they can outsource civil liberties protection to the writer of children’s books and a comedian. Perhaps it is for the best.